Blood Legends: Undead – Episode Four
What if I couldn’t get to her in time?
“So, what’s your story, huh?” Avila glared at Sun sitting between us on the bench seat as we raced along the highway.
Sun shrugged; her fingers twisted in her lap. “What do you mean? My story isn’t any different from anyone else’s.”
“Ha.” Avila’s lips curled as she indicated the stake leaning against the seat beside Sun. “I’m not buying the innocent act, Sunny. What’s with the blood-soaked stake? Did you kill kindred?”
I glanced at Sun as her jaw squared while she stared straight ahead.
“No.” She gave a rueful laugh. “Turns out, stakes can kill humans too.”
Avila was silent for a moment. I could almost hear the gears in her mind turning over. Her eyes never left Sun.
“What happened? Who’d ya kill?”
Sun shifted slightly before she faced Avila. She frantically rubbed the back of her neck.
“Avila,” I started, shaking my head. “Leave it alone.”
Avila didn’t even look at me. Her eyes were like fire in water as she scrutinized our hitchhiker. It was Sun’s brittle voice I heard next.
“Hawkers. There were three of them. They stumbled upon me in an old church I was squatting in. They’d been drinking rum … and just as nasty as the devil’s drink.” She gave a half laugh and shook her head. “They’d been looking for some ‘pink cookie’, they said. For days, I couldn’t stop them, couldn’t leave, could barely breathe. On the fourth night, the ginger one got sloppy with his rope knot. I waited till the booze knocked them out cold and then I jimmied the rope from my wrists and drove this stake into each of their hearts.”
Avila raised an eyebrow. She nodded briefly before turning her gaze toward the passenger window. Not much was said after that. We’d all been through our version of hell. Sun was right. Her story was no different to anyone else’s.
The two women exchanged a few words every now then, but I tuned out for the most part. My thoughts were trained toward the rural landscape as it began to give way to desolate suburban streets that skirted the outer sections of the city. After hearing the disturbing scene Sun had just described at the hands of hawkers, I was having trouble pushing away visions of those barbarous humans pawing over my woman. Scarla must be beside herself with fear.
Swiney prickass lowlifes. If they so much as touched a hair on her head, I’ll kill them all — one way or another.
I couldn’t help but think of that last moment we shared on the beach together. The way the shade of her eyes deepened like copper inkwells when she looked at me. It haunted me. I’d failed her.
What if I couldn’t get to her in time? What if it all went to shit?
I shuddered as feelings of helplessness and anger coursed through me. The hawkers had said they had a way of testing the blood type. If that were true, I couldn’t produce anything other than the real thing. I had to keep my eye on the endgame. It was all I could do as I kept speeding through the streets, ignoring the stillness of the shopfronts, townhouses and buildings that only months before were part of a thriving city. Now, those dwellings were prey to vultures, crows and vermin that scavenged for human remains.
When the streets narrowed and the maze of suburban districts began to merge with clusters of tall city buildings, I slowed the pickup in search for a discreet place to park. The hidden laboratory was in Norbury’s southern precinct, about a mile and a half away. I didn’t want to risk drawing unwanted attention by driving the truck through the inner-city streets. We would walk the rest of the way.
Scarla’s favorite Italian restaurant caught my eye. We’d spent many an evening together drinking red wine and dining on boscaiola in that cozy joint. She loved it for its unexpected charm and authenticity. She loved it for its candlelit dining and checkered tablecloths. Bella donna. My gut knotted as I peered closer at its gloomy facade.
Below the sloped faded green roof, the windows were covered in a slick of grime, the words “Bella E Buona” now barely visible. I recalled the off-street parking bay around the back of the small building. It was a perfect place to stow the pickup, and quite fitting given we were here for Scarla’s sake.
I veered into the driveway and stopped the truck, the wrenching sound of the park brake shattering the silence in the cabin. I reached for my machete and the rucksack filled with rations and a water canister. I had also brought the hunting knives, a box of matches, a flashlight and a few candles. In the pickup tray, I stored a supply of fuel enough to get us back home. Avila and Sun gathered their belongings and climbed from cabin as I refueled the truck before setting off into the city.
Avila’s boots scuffed the gravel parking bay as she crept around like a predator. She was clad from head to toe in black, her jeans appearing sprayed against her slim legs as she clutched the cleaver in one hand while carrying the swaddled stakes over a shoulder. She moved closer to me, gesturing toward Sun.
“What are we gonna do about her?”
I finished refilling the tank and twisted the cap into place before straightening to peer at Sun. She rummaged through her rucksack before producing a canister and taking a sip. As harsh as it sounded, she couldn’t tag along with us. I could not risk jeopardizing the location of the laboratory.
“She will go her own way.”
Avila gazed at Sun and nodded. I knew what she was thinking, but we had helped the woman reach her destination safely. There was nothing more we could do for her. We had our own problems and time wasn’t on our side.
We parted ways with Sun and set off toward the lab. The hairs on my neck tingled as we hurried through the wasted city streets. It was as if time had frozen, leaving behind a collection of vacant buildings and harrowing steel in the wake of devastation. My breath shallowed as I thought about those who had died at the claws of the undead that hid in city basements and underground tunnels during the daylight hours.
A chill ran through me as we silently pushed forward, keeping our ears to the ground and our eyes trained on every street corner and abandoned car. You never knew what could be lurking in the shadows by day. Those brave enough to linger in the city with the bloodsuckers were just as dangerous as far as I was concerned. They were the ones who sought to strike a deal with the wicked. The ones who vowed to protect them while they slumbered. We called them the Shadow Guardians.
By the time we reached the building where the lab lay beneath ground level, the sun was swallowed behind the towering smoky glass and concrete buildings. The air cooled against the sweat on my brow and was tinged with the sickening stink of decomposing flesh. It wasn’t long before my fingers ached from gripping the machete so hard.
I stalled at the entrance of the building as I cocked my head to gaze toward its mirrored veneer. It was a building I was familiar with, having visited its plush interior levels on many occasions in the course of my career. The laboratory had been created for covert government research purposes. And while I had never worked for the agency, I did periodically have dealings with their ongoing intensive research programs. I was initially led to believe their sole purpose was to find a cure for cancer and other blood diseases. However, it wasn’t long before I became aware of the experiments with biological weapons that went on here. Particularly when presented with an in-depth confidentiality agreement.
I took a deep breath and turned to Avila. “Ready?”
Her eyes darted around the street before she looked at the huge glass doors leading into the lobby. She gulped.
“What if they’re inside?” Her voice wavered as she turned back to me. “What if we wake them?”
I reached out to stroke away a strand of hair from her face. I forced a smile, but it evaporated as soon as it had emerged. It was possible we could be walking into a vampire lair and there was nothing I could say to comfort her.
I steeled myself and took another sharp breath.
“Get the stakes out and keep close to me.”
Hollow City is an urban fantasy set in a post apocalyptic world, and is part of Kim Petersen’s Blood Legends. Episodes set to publish weekly for 12 Weeks. Catch up on previous episodes here.
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